Org-mode and Why You Should Consider Using It

Org-mode is certainly best one of many things I’ve discovered in first 2 months in 2012. Now I use it for anything from note taking, convention management, and even writing full report.

This was great discovery to me, that recently, I have been started a lot of things on the web as well as on more specialized platforms such as Chromebook rather than on traditional PC. Sure I will have to use some type of computer to convert document prepared in Org-mode, more about it later.

Binary Blobs Suck

I have been complaining about various binary blobs in the past. I expressed my hate anything from proprietary format, as well as winmail.dat attached to E-mails. (I’m still seeing that, albeit less often. Hey Microsoft, if you are seeing it push some Windows Update to everyone and get rid of that thing altogether.)

Classic examples are documents generated by any office softwares traditionally had this problem. It started to improve when standardization efforts such as OpenDocument and some sense Office Open XML are introduced in the market. This may have changed significantly in standardized to approach to otherwise proprietary formats that was (and still is) dominating the market, was was very important movement.

However, what these standardization efforts did not solve was accessibility problem. No matter how open those formats are, they would still require use of some extra piece of software, that requires degree of complexity than what you could attain using plain text. TeX (and LaTeX) has been around for years allowing plain text edit, but it was far harder to use than, although, I consider TeX/LaTeX being 100 times better way of creating documents than on Microsoft Word.

Org-mode being plain text, I can be editing the document everywhere: I can do it on PC, I can do it on Mac, I can do it on Chromebook (considering ChromeOS does not have any software packages it is bit cranky to do it with) and I can do it on my phone. Eventually, I will be relying on actual PC to convert, but being able to write documents is very useful aspect of Org-mode and mark up languages in general.

Structured Documents Made Easy

One thing I like about Org-mode (and also TeX/LaTeX) is that it enforces structured documents. I often across many documents E-mail to me that are horribly created document – heading being mere font size change, table of contents written as text, rather than auto generated based on heading information, because it lacks document structure information because of the above.

Sure some people are apparently smart enough to do this properly even when they are using Microsoft Word, but the point is that Org-mode enforces this with positive motivation. By making sure the document has proper format on Org-mode, it makes Org-mode much more useful, as it is outline processor, you will be able to organize contents more efficiently when it is structured.

Project Management Made Easy

Most of things I do at my work is project management. I used to use Microsoft Project, which after I’ve used it for while, I found it wasn’t necessary solution to the problem. Yes, it is perhaps good at making graph that wows management in some companies, but constraints it assume is not always in-line with real life situation. Unless you are working for perfect company, schedule slips, requirements change, which causes heck of changes to the beautiful chart you’ve made using those project management softwares.

Past few days, I have been working on adjusting events which involves around 80 hours of sessions – Org-mode helped this process such a breeze, because getting the big picture of dependencies was very easy with Org-mode.

And what best, is that reports can be generated to number of format for others to review, which is my next point:

Document Creation Made Easy

Once authoring of the document is completed on Org-mode, it is very easy to generate reports for others to consume. Be it HTML, OpenDocument, LaTeX, etc., all it involve is to export as those format.

It is even possible to create table contains dynamically generated field, much like you can do in Microsoft Excel. It’s like text based spreadsheet.

This creates seamless pipeline of information management to document creation based on it.

Shortcomings?

It is fair to say there are some shortcoming to Org-mode. For example, it is harder to embed diagrams on the document. (It’s not impossible, but the diagrams need to be created externally.) Documents involving heavy use of diagram and drawing are much better done in applications like Microsoft Powerpoint, Microsoft Visio, or LibreOffice Draw. (And please don’t do it on Microsoft Excel!) Other than that, Org-mode is very good all-round information management and document authoring tool.